Rick Joyner: Christian Gnostic. Part 2: Gnosticism
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Rick Joyner: Christian Gnostic
Part 2: Gnosticism
Part 1 Part 2
Preface Introduction Features of Gnosticism Conclusion
I'd like to begin with a quotation from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book, Preaching and Preachers.
A most thorny problem is that of the place of polemics in a sermon and in preaching. The polemic element is obviously important, and it has its very definite place; it is good for the people. I am simply warning now against the danger of too much polemic. Again this will be the danger to the more intellectual type. The preacher has been struggling with rival theories and heresies and wrong interpretations, and so his mind is naturally full of this. But he must be careful not to have too much of this in his sermon. Why? Because the people - the bulk of the people to start with - are probably not interested, a large number of them do not even understand. Remember that - that there are such people. There is definitely a place for polemics; all I am saying is that there must not be too much. There will be a certain number of people in the congregation who are much too interested in polemics, and it is very bad for them if there is too much in the sermon. They are the people who will gladly travel miles in order to hear a slashing attack on a man or on a theory. As you may know, preachers who are always polemical generally get a good hearing - and generally a good collection also. But this is a real snare... ...But, to be perfectly fair, let me say that you must be aware of too little polemics. There are some men who like to have the reputation of being nice men. It is claimed that they are 'never negative'; and they like to say that about themselves. 'Never negative', 'always positive'. That is humbug- sheer humbug and hypocrisy. The Scriptures have a pronounced polemical element in them; and it must be present in our preaching. We have to warn people, we have to guide them. But you must not allow yourself to develop the idea that you are The defender of the Truth, and so spend your time always attacking people and points of view. That becomes negative. There is no life in it, and it will certainly ruin the life of your church.
This is a humbling and challenging piece of advice which we would all do well to heed. It is certainly true that Vanguard and CETF are polemical. We trust and pray (and ask you to do so too) that we may remain radiantly positive about the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ, even as we seek to "pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God" and bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). It is a great joy and delight to us that we are manifestly not the 'only ones out there' contending earnestly for the faith, and we praise God and bless His Name for all our brethren who show us the way in serving Him (2 Timothy 2:2). It nevertheless appears to be our calling for such a time as this to persevere in exposing error where it has burrowed into the church. We ask the Lord that He may furnish us with great grace, love and wisdom to do this in His way.
In the previous article we examined Rick Joyner's prognostications concerning the 'forthcoming Christian civil war', and the implications of this for all true believers. In this piece we will look at how Joyner's patterns of thinking are much more akin to Gnosticism than to Christianity, and therefore how they should be rejected by the church. For reasons of concision, we will confine ourselves to a study of Joyner's Gnosticism as propounded through his fantastically successful book, The Final Quest.
What Is Gnosticism?
In a recent article in Christian Research Network Magazine, Michael Horton shows how many aspects of this ancient heresy have crept into the modern church. He goes right back to the "super-apostles" of 2 Corinthians in discussing its New Testament manifestation. He calls Gnosticism "the most dangerous heresy in church history" and goes on to cite Clement of Alexandria in defining it as consisting of the knowledge "of what we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth" (Excerpta ex Theodoto 78.2). The Collins Dictionary describes Gnosticism as
a religious movement characterised by a belief in gnosis, through which the spiritual element in man could be released from its bondage in matter: regarded as a heresy by the Christian Church
The gnosis of Gnosticism is special, secret, higher knowledge known only to the initiated elite. It is what Benny Hinn and the Word-Faith false teachers call 'revelation-knowledge'. It has always been man's wish to puff himself up in his vain imagination, and hope to reach the stars through "science falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20). In the same verse Paul dismisses man's foolish attempts to reach (and even become) God as "profane and vain babblings". The foundation of virtually every single cult has been one or two clever personalities deciding that they've found out something that no-one else knows- how to become a god or like God. But this is the lie of Satan from the beginning- "ye shall not surely die...ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:4,5). Man has ever since been desperately dependent on God to provide His own means for our salvation, so that only He may be both "just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). The Christian Gospel states that we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8); the Gnostic gospel rails against this, and turns mumbling or screaming in defiance that somehow if we can find the secret knowledge, it can save us. "The world by wisdom knew not God; it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Corinthians 2:21).
Features of Gnosticism
Michael Horton outlines several key qualities of Gnosticism, and we will see how these connect all too closely with Rick Joyner's own ideology. Eclectic and Polymorphic
Philip Lee says that "Gnostic syncretism...believes everything in general for the purpose of avoiding a belief in something in particular. In the case of Christian Gnosticism, what is being avoided is the particularity of the gospel" (Against the Protestant Gnostics). It is this particularity, this narrowness (Matthew 7:14) which Joyner resists and controverts. He talks of a "level where we can still be influenced by our prejudices, doctrines, etc...In general there is much more of a need for humility than dogmatism when we deal with the prophetic". Doctrine is to be avoided, experience celebrated. Moreover, he believes that this 'level' of revelation "was probably experienced by the apostles as they wrote the New Testament epistles" (Final Quest, p.10). If the Apostles were "influenced by their prejudices" whilst writing Scripture, then of course it means we can hardly be dogmatic about the things the Bible teaches us. We must become, Joyner would argue, more 'open', more 'blue-sky-minded', less 'closed' and 'grey-celled'. The Scriptures are put on a par with all manner of spiritual messages, and we become like the Areopagites of Acts 17, doing nothing but discussing the latest ideas and sipping coffee whilst poring over the latest published prophecy of Rick Joyner (a snip at £7.99), Bibles onto the shelf. As a result of this compulsive eclecticism, Horton suggests that it is often very difficult to work out what on earth Gnostics are going on about. Because they draw from so many sources, their teachings are confusing and sometimes contradictory. This is why Joyner is able to say that "only the Scriptures deserve to be considered infallible" (ibid., p14) whilst implying that the Apostles' writings could have been tarnished by their prejudices, and also never really referring to the Bible throughout his entire book. Joyner is also insistent that love should outweigh truth (see previous article) in importance, which creates a false antithesis and opens up a wide doorway to error in the names of charity and tolerance. "He," Joyner says of Christ, "was not trying to get me to see something as good or bad as much as to see it in union with Him" (p126), hinting at the monistic view of the world.Peter Jones in his excellent anti-Gnostic books The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (1992) and Spirit Wars (1997) describes monism's five key points as:Spirit over Matter
As well as being monistic, paradoxically the Gnostic worldview is also dualistic, where matter is evil and spirit is good. The war, it is thought, is between the Divine Within and the World Outside. The only reality is spirit, nirvana, and everything visible and physical is illusion (maya). This is very central to all Eastern religions and ancient Greek philosophy. But as long as things are spirit, it is not considered really necessary to distinguish between good and bad. The important thing, apparently, is that something is spirit and not matter (NB this is very different from the clear Biblical teaching that we should "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" 2 Cor. 4:18). Joyner does not make many specific attacks against the physical world (except one where he says, "you must be struck blind in the natural so that you can see by My Spirit" p131), but he certainly seems to have a pietistic, almost eremitic attitude, whereby he meditates in a "mountain cabin where I go to seek the Lord". His vision is a lot about a Frank Peretti-style demons vs angels battle. In this he is also similar to C. Peter Wagner whose view of spiritual warfare takes on an increasingly super-spiritual preoccupation ... this popular view of spiritual warfare in which believers decide the outcome of battles between good angels and bad angels is too close to Manichaean Gnosticism for comfort (Horton). Joyner does not seem altogether connected to reality- his book has a fey, otherworldly quality quite unlike the practical exhortations of the letters to the churches in even the most intangible of Bible books, the Apocalypse. I found in it almost nothing of devotional or hortatory value which I could take away with me to apply to my daily Christian life, to cause me to be more like Christ. It seems crazy to me why anyone should want to read Joyner, apart from novelty value, because- would it be too cheeky and obvious to say so?- it looks like he just sat in his log cabin one day, looked out across a mountain, and got out a pen and made it all up off the top of his head. The Final Quest is a luxurious garment, but emperor Rick really is wearing no clothes at all. Perhaps this is most plainly seen in the fact that the book ends thus:
Suddenly I came to a door. I turned because I did not want to leave, but I immediately knew that I had to. This was the door that Wisdom had led me to. I had to go through it.
To be continued...
This says it all. Joyner (because of his preference for his imagination over Scripture) is "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). His mountain just keeps on climbing up, there are always more doors to open, more gemstones to eat, more eagles to release, more levels of truth to attain, more books to publish. (What's he going to call the next one? The Very Last Quest, Honest?!) His truth, unlike the Ancient of Days' immutable truth, is ever-changing and always to be continued....Individualistic and Subjective
"The writings," says Horton, "are extremely esoteric and mystical". Gnostic writing is inward-focused and concerned with self-realisation. Joyner's novel (for so it might be called) is like nothing you have read before (except perhaps The Hobbit). It is a story about a man who dreams he is fighting with demons riding on top of professing Christians. He then climbs up a nearby mountain, ascending to higher and higher "levels" of truth until he reaches spiritual enlightenment and oneness with the divine. He meets eagles, walks through magic doors and picks up brightly coloured stones along the way. He resists describing the Final Quest as an allegory, which is encouraging because all the characters and events in a book like Pilgrim's Progress have significance and meaning which can be clearly interpreted and applied. His entire work is written without any sort of testing or scepticism towards the deceitfulness of the heart above all things and its desperate wickedness (Jeremiah 17:9). In fact he is told by an 'angel' to "listen to your heart...that is where these great truths now abide" (p74). Then he has the audacity to criticise others for "naively accepting everything that happened to them as being from the Lord" (p21)! Later on, however, he castigates himself for "questioning and challenging [Wisdom] most of my life" (p46). In this vision I could look at a division of the evil horde and know all of its strategies and capabilities at once. I do not know how the knowledge came to me, but I just knew it, and in great detail (p12, my italics). This sudden, mysterious knowledge comes upon Joyner, but he doesn't think to test its source. He 'just knows'. It is clear that the supreme authority in Joyner's life is not the Scriptures, but his own very fertile imagination. He actually believes that since he has had "the red stone" put into his heart (p74), he can have absolute confidence in all the unusual things that come out of it. It is akin to the Mormon testimony where truth-claims are founded not upon the evidence of Scripture, but upon a 'burning in the bosom'. It is existential, self-authenticating Christianity. It is also apparent that he views spiritual growth and maturity not as coming by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit on a believer, helping him to add to his "faith virtue, knowledge and...godliness"(2 Peter 1:5,6); rather growth comes through attaining higher and higher "levels" of special knowledge, and through finding out "deeper biblical truths" (as contrasted with the "lower [sic] levels...'Salvation', 'Sanctification', 'Prayer', 'Faith'" p26). To show how central this notion of climbing up rungs of knowledge is, see pages 26 and 27 of the book where the word 'level' or 'levels' is used at least nine times (and this is typical of most of the book). The idea of ascending a magic mountain of spirit knowledge (what Horton calls "the ladder of spiritual ascent") is a classic Gnostic trope. So is the meeting with the personification of Wisdom (or gnosis) - Sophia. [Editor notes: this is a major theme in ancient Egyptian gnostic lore, and its infiltration into true christianity is by no means new.] Joyner, naturally, meets a "great angel named Wisdom" on his path up the mountain (p26). Joyner's personal vision is, as would be expected from Horton's category of 'individualistic and subjective', deeply personal. He chats to angels and is told that "those who reach this level are entrusted with the powers of the age to come" (p30). He "makes it to another level", this time a garden, where those "who know the Father's love can eat" (p35). He is also given eagles that he can command to eat the snakes that bind his brethren (?!). Jesus appears and "congratulates" [sic] him for reaching the top of the mountain. He is told that he can see Wisdom [his version of Christ] and others cannot, "not because I [Wisdom] have entered your realm, but because you [Rick Joyner] have entered mine" (p50). When he meets 'Paul' he is told that "you are now our hope" and is encouraged by him to "go higher" than he (Paul) did (p135). Joyner also persists in describing himself as one of the "last day believers [who] will walk in all of the power that I [Christ] demonstrated, and more, because they will be the final representatives of all who have gone before them" (137). Joyner seems to be alluding to John 14:12, where Jesus says that His disciples will do "greater works than these". Nobody has ever performed greater miracles than Jesus, so a consistent interpretation of that verse surely must be that Jesus' disciples will perform more (in quantity, not power and quality) works than Him, because (as He says) "I go unto my Father". In any case Joyner's meaning is in line with the Dominion Theology teaching, where the Church is the "ongoing incarnation", on a level with Christ Himself. This is why the Word-Faith movement are able to break down any real distinction between the Christian and Christ. "We are as much incarnations as Jesus of Nazareth," say Hagin and Copeland. The corollary of course to this is that Christ is reduced to a spirit-filled man. But where is the Gospel in this? Where is that grace which abounds to the chief of sinners? We are presented with a portrait of a self-authenticating spiritual super-hero who is congratulated for climbing the holy mountain, as it were, all in his own strength! He puts these words into God's mouth: "You determine how close we will be, not I" (p140).As we see, in Christian "Gnosticism, faith is magic. It is a technique for getting what we want by believing in it strongly enough" (Horton). Truly indeed was it said that "some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling, desiring to be teachers of law, understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (1 Timothy 1:6,7). It is a sad thing when we prefer the sound of our own voice to God's. In fairness to Joyner, there are parts of his narrative where he does say that he feels "overwhelmed by my own sin" and "evil and corrupt" (p102).Immanence over Transcendence
"In terms of the individual's relation to God, the Gnostic stresses God's nearness over his distant holiness and sovereignty" (Horton). Where all in Scripture who had visions of the Lord (such as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul and John) fell on their faces before Almighty God, Joyner simply "stands in the Garden of God under the Tree of Life" (p40), though he does say that others kneel. But it is interesting to note that in Joyner's vision, "it did not seem that the Lord was appearing in His glory. In fact His appearance was rather ordinary." Whilst this may well be a fair description of our Lord during His earthly pilgrimage (cf. Isaiah 53:2), it surely cannot be true of His Ascended and Glorified form, of which we read in Revelation 1 and 19, where he is "as white as snow" with "eyes as a flame of fire and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and his voice as the sound of many waters" and "on his head were many crowns...and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God" (1:14,15; 19:12,13).
It is also, I think, extremely revealing that it is only when we focused on Him the way that we did in worship, [that] we began to see more of His glory. The more intensely we worshiped, the more glory we beheld. If this was heaven, it was much, much better than I had ever dreamed
Whilst there is obviously a distinction here between the Creator and the creature, the Worshipped and the worshipper, one still gets the uncomfortable sense that the Christian Gnostic bestows glory upon the Lord Jesus by means of his praise. It is rather like that chorus which goes, "we lift you up with our praise", which somehow (to me at least) suggests that God needs us to lift Him up, to glorify Him. God is already exalted, already glorified in toto. We can't add to the infinitely perfect. We can only respond in humble gratitude to His loving kindness and extol His Name as it is deserving. Joyner makes his stance for immanence (the god within) over transcendence (God Almighty without) most clearly in the final chapter, 'The Overcomers'. The Lord, according to Joyner, has been smiling and putting his arm round him. Joyner turns to look at Jesus' judgement seat (which he appears to have vacated) but the Lord stopped him. "Don't look back. I am not there for you now; I am here. I will lead you from this room and back to your place in the battle, but you must not look back. You must see My judgment seat in your own heart, because that is where it is now...Everything that I am doing, I am doing in your heart. That is where the living waters flow. That is where I am."...I was stunned by what I saw. My armor contained the same glory that surrounded Him." Christ has quite literally been taken off His throne, and the judgement is now all Joyner's. While the Bible clearly teaches that all believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:14), it is a different matter to claim that it is our role to usurp Christ from His external and absolute seat of judgement, before which we must all appear (2 Corinthians 5:10). It seems that the Bible is "a rich source of those truths that we, in our hearts, already know"(Lee). It's a foundation, but (so we are led to believe) if you want true revelation-knowledge, you need to buy The Final Quest!Anti-institutional Orientation
Institutions are viewed by Gnostics as spiritual enemies. "The Outside God and Outside Church," says Horton, "are enemies of the soul, directing the self away from one's own inner experience to others." Joyner claims that "the church will not be destroyed, but the institutions and doctrines that have kept men in spiritual slavery will be" (p37). The main issue, he argues, "will be slavery versus freedom". But Joyner's sort of freedom does not seem to consist in learning, believing, trusting and obeying the truth of Jesus as revealed by the Holy Ghost through Scripture. In fact, his view of Paul's teachings in particular is most alarming. He meets 'Paul' and various other dead saints in heaven, which in itself is disturbing. Surely this is necromancy for a living man to converse with departed saints? This is expressly forbidden in the Bible. This is what 'Paul' says:
If what I have written [at least 13 books of the New Testament] is used as a foundation, it will not be able to hold the weight of that which needs to be built upon it...You must see my teachings through the Lord's teachings, not try to understand Him from my perspective...The greatest wisdom, and the most powerful truths, are His words, not mine...There is much more available to every believer to walk in than I did.
Joyner not only attacks the fallible institutions of the established churches, but also attacks the infallible traditions of the Apostles in Scripture (2 Thessalonians 3:6). We are told in that verse to withdraw ourselves "from every brother which walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us". Only by shedding some doubt or shadow over the efficacy and sufficiency of Paul's inspired words can Joyner hope to get people to read his own work, it seems. Otherwise, I say again, there seems to be no great need for it at all.Anti-historical
Horton states that "Gnosticism emphasises the self's personal, direct encounter with God here and now, and has little or no place for events of God's saving activity". Joyner's book is almost entirely mystical, ecstatic and abstract (which makes it really very boring after a while). There are very few references to God-in-history, or any real events or anything specific about the world outside Joyner's imagination anyway. There is no data. There is one reference to the Cross of Christ, but it is held up more as a mystic symbol than as the instrument of our atonement and restoration to God, by the perfect propitiation of His anger against our sin (Romans 3:25, AV).Feminist
Philip Lee asserts that "Ancient Gnosticism loathed the patriarchal and authoritarian qualities of official Christianity. From the Gnostic point, the structure and discipline of the Church stifled the Spirit. The antipathy towards nature was reflected in the Gnostic celebration of the 'androgynous [i.e. sexless] self'. While the body may be either male or female, the spirit is 'free'". Joyner recounts a rather bizarre part of the vision where he meets a Reformer's wife and finds her very attractive though not in a lustful way. He reiterates the "attraction between male and female that was given in the beginning" (p104). However, he is also at pains to highlight his belief that "perfect justice in the church will not be attained overnight. There will still be struggles for women's rights" (p37). His terminology is strangely secular- where does the Bible talk in these terms? Does he mean that churches are prejudiced against women in some fashion? That they are seen as second-class citizens of heaven? If that is the case anywhere, it is of course nonsense because "God created man in his own image...male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). It is far more likely that Joyner means that women should be given all the responsibilities of men and vice versa, that the Biblical distinction between genders is abolished (see 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5:21ff.).
We have seen how in these seven areas, to varying degrees, Joyner's book The Final Quest has Gnostic tendencies. The book's very existence as a personal choose-your-own-adventure-cum-prophecy-of-global-significance predicates its own lack of value. As Horton argues, quoting Lee, "the mystical seekers' spirituality 'is rooted more in their own biographies and experiences [e.g. The Final Quest] than in any grand religious narrative [e.g. God's Word] that purports to provide answers for all times and in all places". But, returning to Martin Lloyd-Jones, we must determine how we are without excessive polemic to react most constructively to the phenomenon that is the 'American Prophetic Movement', the neo-charismatics, the Christian Gnostics. When we see teachings that dismantle or underplay the glorious truths of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, and emphasise fables and dreams, we understandably get angry. What can we do with this? I'd like to suggest in concluding that we persevere in praying for people like Joyner. I've been listening to The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and it's struck me how persistently Miss Ten Boom pitied and prayed for her Gestapo enemies and persecutors. Also, we need to keep a beady eye out for Christian friends who are getting sucked into these patterns of thinking, which so injuriously exalt the human imagination over and above the supreme authority of God's Word (in the flesh, and written on the page). We must pray for ourselves too, that when we warn them, and encourage them to get back to reading the Bible and obeying it, we undertake this heavy responsibility with great grace, "with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15). For those parts of this piece which may be lacking in those qualities, I ask the Lord's and your pardon. Soli deo gloria. Neil Richardson
This article, by Neil Richardson, first appeared in Vanguard Magazine. It is used here by permission. Vanguard Magazine is a quarterly teaching magazine associated with Christian Witness Ministries
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